UN Human Rights Chief Worried About Afghan Regress

News - Afghanistan

On her first trip to Afghanistan as the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay indicated concern over signs of increased human rights violations in Afghanistan. Citing spiking civilian casualties, reported cases of detainee torture and violence against women, Ms. Pillay called on the President Hamid Karzai's government to ensure the gains of the past 12 years are not lost and human rights progress in Afghanistan continues to be made.

Ms. Pillay made her comments while visiting Kabul on Tuesday, where she met with government officials and civil society activists as part of her trip to assess the state of human rights in Afghanistan.

The Commissioner expressed disappointment in what appeared to be widespread and unchecked human rights violations across the country despite the commitments made by President Karzai made in the past. In addition to highlighting increased civilian casualties, violence against women and torturing of prisoners, Ms. Pillay expressed dissatisfaction with the government's failure to implement the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law and the appointments made to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

"We do have serious concerns that the human rights situation in the country is deteriorating," she said. "I have had lengthy discussions with civil society activists and they have made it clear to me that they feel the gains made over the past 12 years are vulnerable and at risk of being reversed during and after the transition."

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported a couple months ago in its mid-year report that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were up from past years. The mid-year report documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries (3,852 casualties) from January to June 2013, marking a 14 percent increase in deaths, 28 percent increase in injuries and 23 percent increase in total civilian casualties compared to the same period in 2012.

With regard to violence against women, the AIHRC reported earlier this year that reported cases of domestic abuse had hiked from past years as well. In addition to household violence, however, an unprecedented number of high-profile attacks on female government officials and police officers have captured headlines this year. Just last week, a female member of the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Helmand province died from wounds suffered in a targeted attack by unidentified gunmen. The officer had replaced a previous high-ranking female officer who was killed under similar circumstances back in August.

Ms. Pillay was highly critical of the AIHRC on her visit, which she recognized as a crucial institution in Afghanistan, but said had been compromised by recent appointments made by President Karzai.

"This extremely important national institution [AIHRC] succeeded, in an impressively short space of time after it was set up, in gaining the coveted 'A' Status under the Paris Principles – an international peer-run system of accreditation for these key national human rights bodies, which now exist in more than 100 states worldwide," Ms. Pillay said. But she added that with recent appointments to the Commission were very concerning, and said her organization would be examining AIHRC's work since the appointments were made in the coming months.

Ms. Pillay first expressed issue with the AIHRC's direction back in June, after Presdident Karzai appointed five new Commissioners. Although he publically denounces many of the Taliban's views, one of the new members of the Commission, Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Hotak, previously served in several leadership positions during the Taliban regime. Mr. Hotak is suspected to be one of the new appointees that has concerned the UN the most.

With peace talks with the Taliban and the upcoming elections in mind, Ms. Pillay was clear in admonishing the Afghan government about sacrificing human rights priorities for political ones.

"I urge an extra effort by the President and his government to ensure that the human rights gains of the past 12 years are not sacrificed to political expediency during these last few months before the election," she said.

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